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Interview: Bobby Beck, CEO/Co-Founder, Animation Mentor

Bobby Beck, CEO/CoFounder of Animation MentorBobby Beck, CEO & Co-Founder of Animation Mentor, joins us today to discuss online animation education.

Tell us about the distance learning programs offered at Animation Mentor.

Animation Mentor is the only animation school in the world built by professional animators for people who want to become character animators. Our program teaches students the skills needed to succeed as a professional animator in the studio environment.

What is the typical duration of each of your programs?

Our online animation program is 18 months. The curriculum is divided into six 12-week terms. Animation Mentor students come from various levels of experience with animation. Many of our students are learning 3D from the ground up, some have previously attended art schools, while others are working professionals in the industry who are looking to further their skills in character animation. Our approach is to create a real-world studio environment where students learn from mentors who are professional character animators. This approach is working.

What would you say makes Animation Mentor's programs different and better than other comparable online programs?

I started Animation Mentor with two of my best friends Shawn Kelly and Carlos Baena. When Shawn, Carlos and I set out on this adventure we really wanted to create the most fulfilling learning experience on the planet - one that was focused 100% on character animation.

What makes Animation Mentor truly unique is that the 18-month online program is designed and taught "virtually" by some of the industry's top professional animators from top studios. The mentors, who teach small groups of 10-14 students, are employed at leading studios. The cutting- edge technology Animation Mentor leverages enables mentors to view and critique student work within an online campus forum, and host Q&A sessions that are archived for future reference. In addition to being able to learn directly from top professional animators, students can download lectures on demand by key industry experts on all aspects of production, and socialize in an online campus environment in the same way they would on FaceBook. Best yet, students and graduates come from more than 86 countries, and within 12 months of graduation, Animation Mentor places 78% of graduates in jobs.

The studio that our mentors work at include Pixar Animation Studios, PDI/DreamWorks, Blue Sky Studios, DreamWorks Feature Animation, Walt Disney Animation Studios, and Sony Pictures Imageworks.

I reinvented the way people got an animation education because traditional brick and mortar schools did not provide a model for passing on information from the top talent back to the people who were going to be the next super stars. That's why we created a mentor apprenticeship model where students learn from professionals in a real-world environment.

How important would you say accreditation is when choosing an online college?

In the animation profession, a degree is not important. What is important is talent and what the animator can do. This can be clearly seen on a demo reel. That's why Animation Mentor focuses on providing a comprehensive education in character animation and helps students develop their demo reels during the program. Animation Mentor is certified by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education. Graduates hold a certified diploma of "Advanced Studies in Character Animation."

We recently commissioned an industry survey of animation professionals on job satisfaction, career outlook and salary survey. You can check out the full report that reveals career trends in the animation industry, Behind the Characters: Professional Animators, visit here

There is some debate as to whether or not online degrees are as worthwhile as traditional degrees. What steps does Animation Mentor take to ensure that online students are receiving the same education that they'd receive in a classroom?

We like to say that our online school is open for business 24 hours a day and students can view lectures as many times as they like. In the bricks and mortar world, if you miss a class, you miss out. You don't get a second chance to see the lecture and you're lucky if you can get notes from a fellow student. On our online campus, you can not only view the lecture multiple times, but notes, assignments and learning tools are available for download to ensure students master the key concepts of every lesson.

In addition, every single student gets a professional critique of their work from a mentor every week. In most bricks and mortar schools, instructors only have time to do one or two critiques a week and other students must learn by observing another student's critique. We've created a proprietary tool called the eCritique��, which allows mentors to critique each frame and draw directly on a student's work to correct lines of action, blocking, and movement - it also provides visual direction for how to improve the animation.

Our students also participate in live, interactive, weekly Q&A sessions with their mentors and up to 15 other students. During these sessions, the students and mentors discuss the lecture/demos, their assignments, and other animation-related topics. Our assignments are structured like shot assignments animators would receive in the real-world with feedback and critiques much as they would get on the job. By the time they finish the program, they are ready to step into a production job.

What would you say are some of the benefits of earning a degree online rather than in a traditional classroom?

Our students receive more one-on-one time with their mentors than they would at a traditional brick and mortar school. At most universities and art schools, large classes mean you rarely get individual critiques and instruction on your assignments. At Animation Mentor, each student gets individual attention and feedback every week.

One of the things I love about our school is that we bring students together from around the world. Our students span the globe throughout New York and Wisconsin in the United States to the U.K., Brazil and France. We host several internal school events each year, including an annual barbecue, open houses, job fairs and graduation. It's awesome and exciting to see so many students meet for the first time in person at these events!

The Animation Mentor community is tremendously inspiring. Our students, alumni and mentors keep connected through our online campus and social media like FaceBook, MySpace, and Twitter. Many of our students and graduates have developed life-long friendships and meet up at conferences and our events. The community is full of touching stories of people who love animation who have achieved their dreams of becoming a character animator.

If a student enrolled in one of your programs was interested in finding an internship in their field in their area, do you have any means of assisting them in acquiring an internship position?

Animation Mentor has a Career Services department that assists students in finding internships as well as jobs. We host internal job fairs a few times a year where recruiters from all over the U.S. meet and talk to Animation Mentor grads and check out their demo reels.

Does Animation Mentor offer any job placement services to your students and graduates?

Our Career Services department helps Animation Mentor graduates find jobs in the industry. Career Services maintains an excellent working relationship with many of the animation studios and other companies within the animation industry. Before students graduate, they have an opportunity to meet with Career Services which works with them to prepare them for the job market. After graduation, Career Services will continue to work with graduates to help them find the right job.

Currently, we have graduates working at more than 220 studios around the world! Some of these studios include Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), Sony Pictures Imageworks, Walt Disney Animation Studios, DreamWorks Animation SKG, Electronic Arts, Blue Sky Studios, and Tippett Studios.

Many of our graduates have worked on feature films and other big projects. Some of the movies our graduates have worked on include Horton Hears a Who!, Transformers, The Bee Movie, The Golden Compass, The Tale of Desperaux, Kung Fu Panda, Monsters vs. Aliens, and the upcoming Ice Age 3.

Is financial aid available to students in your programs?

Because Animation Mentor is a non-accredited private post-secondary vocational school, we aren't eligible to participate in Federal Student Aid programs. However, we offer private alternative student loans through SLM Financial, a Sallie Mae company, to provide our students with a superior loan product to finance their Animation Mentor education.

One loan that's offered is the Career Training Loan, which is designed to help students finance their education or training - it can save students money compared with other financing options. This loan can be used for technical training or trade school, distance learning or other continuing education programs.

Do you have any advice for students enrolling in online classes for the first time?

Have fun on your journey learning animation! In addition to making sure you are enjoying the process, we recommend that you attend all your classes and you complete your assignments every week so your mentor can critique your work and give you feedback to improve your work.

What do you enjoy most about your position at Animation Mentor?

One of the things I most love about being the CEO of Animation Mentor is giving back what I call the "golden nuggets" of animation knowledge to the world. My calling is a marriage between animation and education. I love them both so much and seeing someone learn and "get it" is huge. No joke. It's more magical to me that creating a great shot or having my name in the credits. It's not that I don't love animation -- it's that I feel so much life in seeing someone's dreams come true.

My job is to make the best school for animators in the world. It's my job to make sure that what we are teaching is relevant to what the industry needs and that our graduates are coming out with solid skills and an inspired attitude. This is an art in and of itself. I pride myself now more on learning how people learn, the tools they need to learn, the environment they need to learn in and that it all makes sense and is rewarding to them all -- mentors, students and our staff. We want to keep Animation Mentor fresh and exciting so we'll continue to push forward with new ideas. You can read more about my adventures with Animation Mentor and life at my blog

Thank you Bobby, for sharing and participating in this piece.

That concludes our interview!

For more information on the online animation degree programs available at Animation Mentor, visit them online.

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